Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mama's LOVE & LIFE

News soon spread about my Mama Mening’s passing. Friends and relatives came. People noticed the growing number of floral offerings. Flowers where overflowing for this woman who really loved flowers. Maximina Minerva Rañua Badajos - Atega was known for her garden of orchids, roses and other unique collections – and for her endless charitable work. The chapel where she was honored was overflowing with floral arrangements, and when she was transferred to the big church, more flowers were offered, the others had to be placed in lines outside the sanctuary. Near her white coffin with silver trimming where two regal clusters of her favorite blooms, the Waling-waling. More orchid arrangements surrounded the casket: vandas in shades of gold and purple and dendrobiums in white and violets. She had them all and they all seemed like they were joyfully blooming to honor a dear friend.

It made me wonder how a daughter of a fisherman could gather all these touching ways of respect?

My mother, born on June 4, 1921 in Kauswagan, Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte was an ordinary woman who made choices that gave her an ‘extra-ordinary’ life. Being the daughter of a farmer-fisherman from Camiguin Island, she knew the value of hard work and learned to be independent, for her mother died when she was still 4 years old. She chose to study in the town proper where education was of better quality even if she had to take long walks everyday to and from her barrio. To have money for lunch she would sell boiled camotes to her well-off classmates who would sometimes exchange their sandwiches with jolly Mening’s camote variations. On weekends, she would work in her father’s coffee farm, where she formed her great love (actually, more like an addiction) for any form of coffee drink, and in the evenings she would go fishing with her Tatay.

After graduating from grade school, she left her town to study in the big city. She spent her first two years of high school in Davao City, but World War II sent her back home. The lovely young Mening caught the attention of the Japanese commander who was assigned in Agusan. She made use of the special attention by asking the Japanese officer to build a classroom for children near her father’s coffee farm. Sunday school for children kept my mother busy during the war. With their closeness, the officer also made sure that my mother’s family would be protected, and the assignment was a pleasure to the Japanese soldiers for my mother had rewarded them with a share from the coffee harvest. Mama Mening’s special connection made her secret mission easy to undertake: help the Filipino guerillas with supply of food and medicine. She was able to save many lives, among them a woman who was almost raped by the Japanese soldiers; there were around 40 young Filipino men facing execution and her commanding voice had stopped the death sentence; families who, assured of protection, crossed the Agusan river…. She was a war heroine.

The mayor of Cabadbaran during the Japanese occupation was Virgilio, the handsome son of the town’s wealthiest land owner, Don Andres Atega. A bachelor, Virgil was very popular among the ladies, and he would visit them from barrio to barrio. He heard of three lovely sisters in a coffee farm and he decided to visit them. His eyes were not on the beautiful face of the very confident Cecilia, nor on the very shy Crisanta, but they were on the lovely pair of legs, the loveliest he had seen, belonging to the youngest of the three, Maximina. He also loved the simplicity of this woman whom others fondly called Mening. To give his visit a sense of purpose, he requested the three ladies to organize a benefit dance that would be held in the town plaza. On the evening of the event, Mening was asked to sing a song in tribute of the young mayor. Mening with her “Mutya sa Buhat” number instantly became the young mayor’s sweetheart.

The love that bloomed was strengthened by their secret mission during the war: they used their influence to help the Filipino guerillas.

After the war, Virgil decided to take up Law at Silliman University. The Japanese commander offered Mening a trip to Japan and asked her to become his wife, but she turned these down. Mening went to Agusan National High School in Butuan City to finish her secondary education. Her classmates would always remember Mening’s talent in theater, a Best Actress awardee in school plays. To support her schooling, she applied as assistant cook in a restaurant. For her college education, Mening went to Manila and took up a Teacher Education course at Philippine Christian College. To attain her college goal, she served as a cook at the UP Medical School canteen and on weekends she would accept laundry from the American missionaries.

Virgil had somehow forgotten Mening and found a new love at Silliman. Mening tried to keep in touch through letters but Virgil never responded. A female cousin of Virgil was the one updating Mening and explained that Virgil was too busy with campus activities: debating team member, student government president, work student at the Treasurer’s office, etc.

In 1949, Mening was graduating from college when she got a surprise visit from Virgil who had just finished his Law studies at Silliman and was in Manila to prepare for the Bar exams.

Virgil found her sleeping in her small room and she was surrounded by the laundry she just finished ironing. Truly a “Mutya sa Buhat”! Virgil was so touched by the lovely portrait of a hard working woman unfolding before him. He awakened her by touching her hand and instantly asked her to marry him. Mening was shocked but managed to gather her senses and say yes in a very shy manner. It was easy to say yes to her one and only love. However, Virgil was asked to find a husband for her best friend Aurora as they had a vow to be married at the same time – Mening and Aurora dreamt of a double wedding. Virgil sent a telegram to his friend Mariano Causing, a military officer based in Cagayan de Oro, about the beautiful Aurora. The handsome Mariano right away flew-in and joined Virgil in Malate’s Café Adriatico. It was a love-at-first-sight for Mariano and Aurora which ended in the realization of a dream wedding. With the pastor at the chapel of the Union Theological Seminary in Manila, there were only five of them inside the sanctuary. Mariano and Aurora witnessed and stood as sponsors as Virgil and Mening exchanged vows, and likewise, Virgil and Mening stood as sponsors for Mariano and Aurora. It was a simple ceremony for the two college seniors who were just wearing Sunday dresses with their grooms, Virgil in coat and tie and Mariano in military officer’s uniform. The reception cost them only twenty pesos for each pair – the four of them had a special dinner in Manila Hotel.


After graduation, the young Mrs. Maximina B. Atega went home with her husband Virgil to live in Cabadbaran, the town that they had always loved and together, as a teacher and as a lawyer, they served the people with faith and beyond….


The text message I was hoping I would never receive finally came and I had to go home. My 86-year-old mother, Maximina Minerva Rañua B. Atega was hospitalized for she had aneurysm and was declared brain dead. My family had to make an important decision. Before the journey home, my heart led me to Silliman Church, and I witnessed the last part of the Bible Reading Marathon. I actually had a hard time concentrating as some friends tried to start a conversation with me. I decided to transfer to a pew where I could be alone. Filled with much anxiety over my Mama’s situation, I asked God to guide my family with His wisdom. At this time, it was a good friend; Ate Mayette Utzurrum who was reading the 14th Chapter of the Book of Revelation and I heard the 13th verse with this line, “…blessed are the dead who die in the service of the Lord….” I forwarded the verse to all my brothers and sisters – all ten of them. Just like me, my sister Joan found the verse to be a manifestation of God’s wisdom, and she was driven to tears as it was a perfect line that made us accept the truth and the honor on Mama Mening’s inevitable last moment.

It was in the morning of January 15 when Mama complained of a severe headache. My sister, Jemimah tried to help by giving her a gentle massage on her forehead but she was really screaming with pain and so, she had to call my sister Joan to get an ambulance. At the hospital, the doctor explained that the brain scan showed my mother’s very difficult state, the brain hemorrhage resulted in blood clotting up to her nasal cavity. He was honest about the possibility of Mama leaving us on that day. Jemimah right away communicated with all of us. My brother Andre also sent a text message, which was more definite with the doctor’s estimated time of “departure”: around nine o’clock in the evening. Guided by the verse, I agreed to the suggestion to let Mama rest by putting a stop to the breathing machine that was keeping her alive. My brother Gabriel told them to wait for him before a decision would be made. When he got to the hospital at around 1pm, I reminded him to consider my request for 3PM as ‘holy time’ for Mama’s final rest. God’s will prevailed when the attending doctor explained that there was no need to do anything for he was sure that Mama would definitely go with the weakening vital signs. With the text message of Andre being forwarded from one recipient to another, many were already at the hospital to support the family and to express their love for Mama. The evening came, and many more came to be with Mama who was still in ICU. As the forecasted time was coming closer, almost every member of the family was already there except for my sister Ruth who was having a hard time booking a flight from Los Angeles to Manila, my brother Samuel who reasoned that he ‘had important things to finish in the farm” and myself who was still at Silliman Church praying. I was set to take the trip home and was anxiously waiting for the sad news. I had accepted the possibility of not seeing Mama for one last time. Pastor Haniel Taganas gathered those who were at the Silliman Church Bible reading to join Pastor Jonathan Pia who was leading a circle who prayed for “…God’s abiding presence and strength…” for me and family. As they surrounded me, I was touched by the precious act of love in that moment that I felt so very far from home – first flow of tears finally came. I told Ate Mayette that I was blessed by the reading of the scriptures and pointed-out to her the wisdom in Revelation 14:13.

Nine o’clock came, and each member of the family present was given a time to be with Mama. One by one, they all went. But after the farewells, Mama was still alive and it was already beyond ten in the evening. Midnight had come and Mama was still alive! The doctor was saying that it was impossible and told my family that maybe she was “still waiting for someone to come.” They had one thing in mind, get Samuel and force him to be with Mama. At dawn, Andre drove to Samuel’s farm and successfully convinced him that it was time he should talk to Mama.

Morning of January 16 came and Samuel was finally with Mama in ICU. Samuel is a brother who had unresolved issues with Mama: he was a consistent 1st honor pupil from grade one until grade four when he was accused of stealing in a scout camp and Mama had scolded him in front of his friends, this later turned out to be a false accusation – from then on, he changed direction and explored the world of a ‘kanto’ boy. When his very emotional time with Mama ended, the doctor went to check the signs again; Mama’s heartbeat had gone down to 41 and blood pressure went zero. Everyone agreed, it was finally Mama’s time; and they thanked Samuel for taking the courage to see Mama. But Mama kept on and on. The afternoon came and another evening, Mama was still alive. The doctor made another examination and he told my brother Gabriel that our mother “has a very strong heart and it’s keeping her alive.” Then the doctor said, “Maybe, she’s still waiting for another one to come.” They told the doctor with certainty, “She is waiting for Moses who is on his way, our youngest is her favorite son – the one who never fails to make her smile.”

Jemimah had been updating me with every development through text messaging and every message led me to pray for God’s gift of peace for Mama. My mother kept on with the heartbeat count going from 42 to 41. I was already on a bus and was nearing home. When I got the message that she could be waiting for me, I cried like a child and begged God to just let her rest. But her strong heart was holding on. People were looking at me, probably thinking of a different love angle as reason for my tears.

At midnight, my brothers and sisters decided to rest at a nearby hotel. I arrived at the hospital at 1:30 AM and was ushered to the ICU by my nephews Macky and Krisver who volunteered to be with their Lola. I was the only one allowed to go inside Mama’s room. I was very calm as I entered and was in prayer. When I held her hand, her heartbeat went up to 43 and then to 44, then 45. I continued praying for peace. Heartbeat was back at 43. I started singing, “kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya… someone’s dying Lord, kumbaya….” I sang more of her songs and then, I read my sister Ruth’s text message to her, “…Mama, you don’t have to wait for me. Be assured that the legacy of a strong-willed woman will be always in my heart….” I planted a kiss on my mother’s forehead, put her hand on my face, combed her hair with my fingers… I kissed her again. Then, I prayed for God’s will to prevail. At 4:30 AM, the time she would usually start her mornings, Mama’s strong heart finally rested. I cried as I realized that indeed, she was waiting for me. My eyes were filled with tears for I felt the special touch of a very loving mother even at her final moment.
touch of a very loving mother even at her final moment.